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How to Teach Visual Thinking Strategies to Your Students

Visual Thinking Strategies is a popular teaching method initiated by teacher-discussions of art images, and is commonly documented for having positive effects of teachers and students.

Today, VTS is used in museums, schools, universities and health institutions around the world, and as an organization, provides workshop training for educators.

A Brief Intro to VTS

"Visual Thinking Strategies" is an inquiry-based teaching method created by cognitive psychologist Abigail House and museum educator Philip Yenawine. In Yenawine's latest book, he defines VTS as the use of art to teach "visual literacy, thinking, and communication skills."

The official Visual Thinking Strategies website,, describes how art is imperative: "Art is the essential first discussion topic because it enables students to use existing visual and cognitive skills to develop confidence and experience, learning to use what they already know to figure out what they don't; they are then prepared to explore other complex subject matter alone and with peers."

The main aspects of VTS teaching practice include three key inquiries:

1. What's going on in this picture?

2. What do you see what makes you say that?

3. What more can we find?


For more information, watch this video capturing practical use of VTS in the classroom:

VTS and the Common Core Standards from Visual Thinking Strategies on Vimeo.


Lesson Plans for VTS

1. The Learning Network at The New York Times Blog

Every Monday, The Learning Network at the NY Times posts a new photograph with the question, "What's Going On in This Picture?" Participants are invited to join the conversation in the comments, and read what others have posted. VTS will lead a discussion on the comments from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

2. Integrating Technology and Literacy: Five Card Flickr

Invented by educator Alan Levine, this story-telling game using images from can be easily guided by the three core questions of VTS.

3. Various Sources via

Social networking website Pinterest proves to be a valuable resources for teachers looking for creative lessons plans.

Good Resources for Learning How to Teach VTS

1. Visual Thinking Strategies: Using Art to Deepen Learning Across School Disciplines, by Philip Yenawine.

The book by the cocreator of the VTS curriculum details his experiences teaching elementary school age students. The stories show how VTS can be easily integrated into the classroom with structured discussions of visual art. Here's an excerpt from Chapter 1, "Permission To Wonder."

2. Cases on Teaching Critical Thinking through Visual Representation Strategiesby Leonard Shedletsky

This book compiles research from scholars and education professionals to provide more insight into student development through visual thinking.

3. Rutgers University Study: "On Using Museum Methods in the Classroom: A Case Study with VTS"

Teacher and museum educator Emily Monty examines VTS, a teaching method traditionally used in museums, and the challenges and rewards of translating it to the classroom.


Written and Compiled by Samantha DiMauro, Education World Contributor